NASA: James Webb Space Telescope lifts off from South America

 World's largest Telescope is off for a great mission

James Webb Telescope launch

The world's premier research instrument set off from South America early Saturday, a high-stakes mission that will probe deeper into the universe's 13.8 billion-year history than ever before from well beyond the moon.

Officials from three agencies and dozens of nations watched in awe as the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope blasted off the launch pad, a European Ariane 5 rocket lighting up the Christmas Day sky in French Guiana, South America. The 7:20 a.m. liftoff was the 10-year mission's first serious test.

"Go, Webb, go!" Jean-Luc Voyer, Arianespace's director of operations, certified proper separation of the telescope from the upper stage 27 minutes after liftoff.

Webb will employ a large 21-foot main mirror made up of 18 gold-coated hexagonal tiles to explore the universe after it is unfurled and in orbit beyond the moon around a million miles from Earth. Its distinguishing feature is infrared observation, which means that obstructions like as dust clouds will not be a problem. Scientists will be able to observe the early stages of star formation as well as the atmospheric compositions of potentially hazardous far-off planets.

Webb Space Telescope is the successor of the Hubble Space Telescope, which revolutionized science with the Hubble Deep Field picture, which notably caught dozens of galaxies in a single image. NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency are working together on the project.

NASA's total development cost: $10 billion over a 25-year period. This does not include the expenditures incurred by ESA and CSA.

"Whenever we look at launches, they're both a beginning and an ending. They're an ending of an engineering project on the ground ... but they're the beginning of one of the most amazing missions that humanity has conceived"Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator of science, said

Webb and other spacecraft must be able to fold origami-style to fit into rocket payload fairings, also known as nose cones. Ariane 5's larger-than-usual fairing, measuring 17.7 feet in diameter, was one of the reasons it was chosen for this mission.

According to Project Scientist Klaus Pontoppidan, one thing is guaranteed for all of them: the discoveries Webb offers will almost certainly lead to many more questions – and individuals eager to help answer them.

"Webb will very certainly raise fresh issues for future generations of scientists, some of whom may not even be alive now," he added. 



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